Volunteer firey’s place morals over money to help community
AS THE weather heats up and fires threatens to destroy land, property, and even lives, we can take comfort in the knowledge that our volunteer firefighters will be on the job, risking their lives to keep others safe.
But beneath the yellow uniforms are working class people, who are leaving their paying jobs at the drop of a hat to race to fires, which are becoming more and more frequent as the years pass.
Michelle and Clinton Hansen are small business owners, Hansen Kitchens, and volunteer firefighters with the QFES. While both love nothing more than helping their fellow residents when times are tough, few realise the difficult juggling act volunteers have to master to manage their commitments as a firey, their jobs, and their families.
“It is hard. We drop tools and go. We do try and keep in the back of our mind that we are volunteers, and we don't have to go. But you also have in the back of your mind, if I don’t go, who’s will? So, I always go,” Mrs Hansen said.
“Being a small-business owner, if I get a call I'll literally stop what I’m doing, go to the fire and I’ll come back. If it’s nine o’clock at night, I’ll have a shower and go back to the office and work till late. Somehow you have to find the hours to catch up.”
While Mrs Hansen is always ready to put in the hard yards in terms of work, she said the most difficult sacrifice is time spent with her family. Particularly during the apocalyptic bushfire season of 2019-20, volunteer firefighters were being called out to fires about three times per week.
“I think families are probably impacted the most. If you're out three nights a week, you’ve missed that time with your family,” she said.
“QFES makes sure that we‘re looked after. If we’re out at a fire for too many hours, we’ll go home and have a sleep, and that’s why having lots of volunteers is good, because you can cycle through and give people breaks.”
“But here, with the business, there are no volunteers. It’s just me and Clint, so we just catch up on our work when we can. It is a juggle trying to balance work and family and even time for yourself.”
President of Kingaroy Chamber of Commerce and Industry Damien Martoo said it is important for people to recognise the important role volunteers play in the community, but also the necessity for collaboration when it comes to natural disasters. The fewer volunteers we have, the more difficult it is for the individuals, businesses, and the local economy to cope.
“I’d like to see more people taking on a just a little bit more, and if we can do that, we’ll get the best out of our volunteers and we won’t burn them out. Then we’ll have a more sustainable QFES moving forward,” he said.
Keeping in mind the daily commitments to keep local businesses thriving, move volunteers means more employees will be able to stay in work, without running themselves dry and burning through their annual leave.
Michelle and Clinton entered into the exciting world of volunteer firefighting about five years ago, after a blaze broke out at their property.
“We called triple-0, they came, and it was one of the scariest times in my life. We weren’t prepared, we didn’t have the ability to fight the fire without them,” Mrs Hansen said.
Inspired by the heroic work of the volunteers who saved their home, Mr Hansen joined the rural fire services, wanting to give back to the community that had helped his family. Mrs Hansen soon followed.
Despite hours of hard and hot work, Mrs Hansen said the opportunity to help fellow residents makes it all worthwhile.
“If you get the chance to talk to the property owners, and they're so thankful and so happy with the fact that you’ve managed to save their fences, their livestock, and their homes; it’s really special to see,” she said.
“Last year, there was a big fire on Schellbachs Road. Clinton and I got stationed at a property, and there were so many under threat, people were just leaving their homes.”
“The one gentleman, who came back to the property that we were keeping an eye on, he just hugged us. He said, ‘I came back expecting my house would be gone’, and he was overwhelmed.”
“Things like that make it all worth it.”
During her time at the QFES, Mrs Hansen has come to realise that some fires, which may seem small and insignificant to most, may still have a massive impact on the lives of those affected.
“It’s our job to put the fire out and to make everything safe, and the benefit is there’s usually something saved. Whether it’s livestock, fencing, grass, or lives, there’s something saved.”
“I had one landowner thank me once because we saved the fence. And I had another landowner thank me because we saved the grass - that was the only grass they had for the season to feed the animals.”
QFES are always looking for more volunteers. If you’re interested in joining a brigade, you can fill out a Volunteering Expression of Interest form or contact the local Rural Fire Service Area Office.
If you have a specific brigade you’d like to join, contact the First Officer to discuss membership.